Last summer, fourteen students joined Mrs. Charles, Mrs. Condon, and Mr. Georgandis for a nine-day trip to Spain. With a goal of cultural and language immersion, the itinerary was ambitious. From sightseeing trips in Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona to daily language immersion activities, this trip confirmed the power and importance of active, hands-on learning.
The trip began in Madrid, where sightseeing was a whirlwind of famous places and local flavor. Students visited the iconic Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, toured the centuries-old Palacio Real, and delved into the stunning collections of the Museo del Prado. They
also experienced the city as locals do: exploring the progressive Barrio Chueca, sampling Spanish foods at a number of gastro-markets, and spending an unforgettable afternoon at the glorious Retiro Park.
Language learning was constant and wide-ranging. Students worked in teams to design Spanish restaurants, participated in an interactive scavenger hunt, and cooked and dined in the homes of local madrileños. Each of these activities brought students into real,
meaningful contact with the Spanish language and the Spanish people.
The group was attuned to authentically local ways of life, and there was no room for shyness! A Sunday visit to the Mercado San Miguel found the elegant space bursting with life. Students spent an hour exploring the market, interacting with vendors and customers, and sampling a variety of Spanish delicacies. They used smartphones to record their experiences and then shared the results at a breezy, outdoor cafe.
After three full days in Madrid, the group traveled by bus to Toledo, a gorgeous medieval city. Once there, students wandered through narrow, winding streets while visiting the city’s Jewish Quarter, touring its massive Gothic cathedral, and taking in El Greco’s haunting masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Later that day, the group returned to Madrid, where students witnessed the passion of Spanish flamenco and enjoyed a final dinner in the nation’s capital.
The next morning, the group traveled by bullet train to Barcelona. Sightseeing in this stylish, Mediterranean city included a walking tour of the Barrio Gótico, a stroll down the tree-lined La Rambla, and a block of free time at the beach. Students also enjoyed a full day’s encounter with the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, visiting the hilly Park Guell, and the soaring Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.
Language learning continued in Barcelona. Students visited an artist’s studio in the colorful Barrio El Raval, worked on a second round of video presentations, and dined in the homes of locals. The trip’s final language learning activity was perhaps the most meaningful. For this activity, the group traveled to a residential neighborhood far from the city’s tourist attractions. There, we visited an after-school center that provides services to a wide range of local families. AOS students learned about the center’s work, interacted with local children, and participated in after-school activities all while practicing their Spanish.
Throughout the trip, we were accompanied by Patricia, our tour director, and Marta, our language instructor. We could not have asked for better guides! Both were enthusiastic and absolutely brimming with a heartfelt passion for their nation’s history and culture. Patricia
and Marta spent meaningful time with each student. They encouraged the students to speak Spanish freely and confidently, worrying less about the specifics, and focusing more on the essentials. Careful listening was crucial. Most students found that even a partial
understanding of another speaker’s words was enough to sustain a meaningful conversation. This authentic, hands-on learning was truly empowering for our students.
Emmanuel S. ‘18 put it this way: “The most challenging part about using a foreign language is working up the courage to actually use it. Once I started talking, I found that it came more naturally than I thought it would.” Matthew H. ‘18 agreed, saying, “Over the entire
trip, I felt my Spanish improved a lot.” The group enjoyed other aspects of the trip as well. Spanish cuisine was a real highlight, and our students were remarkably willing to try new tastes. As the days passed, each student developed favorites. Nick S. ‘18 said, “Tortilla de patata was my favorite food because it was the perfect combination of eggs and potatoes.” Luke S. ‘19 favored chicken paella and Spanish chorizo. Our tour guides were always happy to arrange meals that met a wide range of dietary needs; gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan dishes were just as delicious as their more traditional Spanish counterparts.
Parents were pleased with the experiences their students had in Spain. Michelle M. mentioned that she and her daughter, Isabel M. ‘18, re-created some of Isabel’s favorite Spanish dishes in their home kitchen. Barbara Held shared that her son, Matthew H. ‘18,
enjoyed many of the trip’s most interactive moments. “Shopping in local markets and having dinner with local families were special favorites,” she said. Mrs. Held added, “I highly recommend the experience to future seventh-and eighth-grade students at AOS.”
The trip was a terrific success. Our agenda was chock-full of activities, and every traveler found a way to shine. Some students were especially ambitious in their use of the Spanish language; others used strong organizational skills, leading the way during group activities. And let us not forget the two particularly brave students who confidently navigated Barcelona’s cavernous Metro stations; without them, we might still be looking for the exit!
This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of The Delphian.